Skullsworn by Brian Staveley

Posted On 13 April 2017

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skullsworn3Skullsworn is a book that I’ve had on my shelves since last year.  As soon as I saw it I wanted it.  I had ninja grabby hands and fired off a request in a New York minute. Yes, I am fickle enough to be captivated by the gorgeous cover but aside from that it sounded so good and given that I hadn’t, up until now, read anything by this author, I thought a prequel to his series seemed a great starting point, a lovely little alleyway that could lead to a world of possibilities (or, maybe a dead end).  So, as you can see I did put this up on a pedestal a little bit – which meant it had a potentially long way to fall.  It didn’t fall.  I loved this.  In fact I’m struggling to write a review because all my thoughts are a big incoherent mess of rambling happy-higgledy-piggledy-chaos.

Ananshael is the God of Death – a God with no shortage of offerings on a regular basis, after all the only real certainty in life is death.  However, the Priests and Priestesses who serve Anashiel are trained in the art of everything that is deadly, be it hand to hand combat, stealth, poison, or any number of other means.  For this reason they have become known as the Skullsworn – feared and loathed for the way they dish out death.

Pyrre Lakatur is an acolyte, yet to become a priestess.  Her trial awaits and having been given the goal posts she is, for once, experiencing self doubt about her own chances of success.  In order to become a priestess she has a set number of days to make a number of pre-ordained sacrifices to Anashiel – one of which is “the one you love / who will not come again.”  The problem arises in that Pyrre has never been in love.  In lust, maybe, but not in love.  So she now finds herself returning to the home that she quit long ago to try and find the one thing that has continually eluded her.

Dombang is the place Pyrre was born.  Seemingly built on a swamp the place has become a huge city served by a causeway constructed above the water and reeds which allows people easy access.  Dombang is a hotbed of trouble.  It literally seethes with rebellion and fear.  Over the years the original inhabitants have been conquered and their Gods cast out – but behind closed doors people still worship in the old ways and tempers run high.  The people of the City are balanced on a knife edge of expectancy and Pyrre is about to stride in and tip the balance.

This is such a contradictory book.  A book about opposites almost.  Life and death, love and hate.  It gave me much pause for thought – particularly in terms of all the different forms of worship and most curiously the strange worship of Anashiel,  Pyrre herself is a contradiction.  She says she’s never been in love and yet as the novel progresses you can clearly see that she is deluding herself a little in that respect.  She suffers from self doubt and although she is practically brimming over with self confidence in so many ways she’s afraid to embrace life.  I loved Pyrre – she’s a remarkable achievement.  Brutal and honest but also with the ability to deceive, especially herself.  Oddly enough this is a book about a search for love that isn’t actually a love story or a romance.

There actually aren’t too many characters to focus on here and this allows the author to  give you a really good look at them.  We have the two witnesses, Ela and Kossal.  They accompanied Pyrre to ensure that she remains faithful to the terms of her trial and if not – well, she will meet her own end.

Ela is an absolutely excellent character – I really loved her.  She’s just so latently sexy and at the same time absolutely deadly.  A beautiful woman with almost inhumanly fast reflexes – also a bit of a raging sex maniac with a fondness for plum wine and a tendency to fall in and out of love  – I just loved her.  At the start of the story we read a scene where a part of the causeway collapses hurling people to the mud and swamp below and leaving them at the mercy of any number of predators, crocodiles and meat eating fishes being only two – in the midst of this commotion Ela remains perfectly calm, impeccably dressed, toting a waxed paper parasol to keep the sun from her brow and simply observing the chaos with something akin to boredom.

Kossal  is absolutely lethal.  He appears to sometimes look like a kindly older gentleman but he’s probably only smiling because he’s just slipped poison into your cup.  He’s testy and grumpy at the best of times and has this quiet sort of menace.  The two of them together are outrageously deadly.  I could read a prequel based on Ela and Kossal any day of the week.

Then we have Ruc Lan Lac.  Ruc is going to be Pyrre’s object of attention.  The two of them were previously an item.  Their relationship was tempestuous and stormy and one day Ruc woke to find Pyrre simply gone.  New she’s returned into his life and she needs to find a way to work her way back into his affections.  More than that she needs to love him, otherwise she fails her trial.  The two of them definitely have a stormy relationship and whether Pyrre can make something more of that remains to be seen.  Ruc is very different from Pyrre – he’s a none believer, everything can be explained away with rational explanation.

Chua is a fishing woman.  The sort of woman that legends are made of.  Unbelievably, she survived, alone in the swamp for an unprecedented number of days.  Since returning to Dombang she moved as far from the water as possible and never speaks of her ordeal. This in itself tells you a lot about what she actually went through.

The five of them are going to find themselves thrown together.  They need to solve the mystery of the swamps and in order to do so they need the help of a tribe that lives amongst the marshes.

Now, in case I’ve made all of this sound incredibly pedestrian, well, I can only say that it really isn’t.  There is plenty of action that all blends in seemlessly with the rebellion and the search for Gods.  There’s this underlying current of tension, there’s plenty of death, fighting and sacrifices.  On top of this the setting is just amazing.  It really does make the story to be honest, the icing on the cake.  Dombang and the surrounding swamps are terrifying and fascinating in equal measure.  With very little effort we find ourselves in a place that is teeming with history and back story.  I loved this place – I’m not sure I’d like to visit it thank you very much – although it does have it’s moments of incredible beauty – even if at times if seems a cesspool and a breeding ground for unsavoury characters.

I don’t know if that has whetted your appetite.  A brief recap just to be sure couldn’t go amiss.  A story of intrigue.  Of Gods and prophecies.  A setting that is brutal and yet breathtaking in it’s deadly simplicity.  Surrounded by predators in all forms.  Characters that you can really become involved with and a simply marvellous ending.  All the way through I was trying to second guess the outcome.  I failed to do so quite miserably and I’m pleased as anything about that because this ending was nigh on perfect – for me anyway.

Why are you still here – just go and read it.  It’s a standalone novel – which is almost as rare as a Dodo in recent times.  If you’ve read the author’s previous works then I’m sure this gives you an entertaining glimpse into one of the characters you already know.  If, like me, this is a new beginning for you.  You don’t need to have read the other books in order to pick this one up.  It’s a perfectly neat little package.  However, if you do pick this up – be prepared to want more Stavely because I think this is a perfection introduction to his work.

I received a copy through Netgalley courtesy of the publisher for which my thanks.  The above is my own opinion.



19 Responses to “Skullsworn by Brian Staveley”

  1. Nathan

    His first series became very popular and I have thought about giving him another chance after being very lukewarm about his first book. I just fear this is another Sanderson type that everyone loves and I just cant figure it out. But maybe I really am missing something I should be reading.

    • @lynnsbooks

      I haven’t read any of his other books – and this was great. Plus, it’s a standalone so I don’t necessarily have to continue – although I’m very curious now. I loved the setting – this wonderful swamp like delta just flooded with mystery and deadly critters.
      Lynn 😀

  2. Tammy

    I really need to read Stavely, and this seems like the perfect place to start. So glad you are raving about it, I shall make plans to read it! Plus I love the dilemma of having to kill someone you love, and I want to see how he pulls that off.

    • @lynnsbooks

      I really hope you read this one because you’re like me and having read any of this author before so I’d love to know what you make of it. I found it a very quick read just simply because I was always anxious to get back to it. And the ending is superb.
      Lynn 😀

  3. sjhigbee

    Ooo… A standalone:). And I really like the sound of the review – thank you for sharing!

    • @lynnsbooks

      Have you read this author??

      • sjhigbee

        No, I haven’t – which is why the standalone is an attractive option, given my TBR is fast turning into a mushrooming MONSTER…

      • @lynnsbooks

        Yep, I know what you mean – another plus for this book really because you don’t have to continue with the series. Of course having loved this I would probably like to read more now.

      • sjhigbee


  4. maddalena@spaceandsorcery

    The contradiction at the root of this story is something that has fascinated me since the first time I heard about it, so I’m very happy to learn that you loved this book and that it turned out to be everything you hoped, and maybe even more. Thanks for sharing!

    Oh, and I’m still laughing about the “ninja grabby hands”!!!! 😀 😀

    • @lynnsbooks

      I was so looking forward to this one that part of me had this pessimistic feeling of dread that I wouldn’t like it – I was glad not to be right about that bad feeling.
      Lynn 😀

  5. Rebecca

    Glad to see you enjoyed it!!! I’m only about halfway through so I didn’t read *too* closely to avoid spoilers. It’s pretty good so far and I LOVE reading about Pyrre’s past.

    • @lynnsbooks

      I really liked it and it’s definitely made me want to pick up more by this author.
      Lynn 😀

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    […] Skullsworn by Brian Staveley – I loved this book, it’s not based in a school but does involve a learning type role.  Pyrre Lakatur is an acolyte, yet to become a priestess and she is about to undergo her initiation.  The Priests and Priestesses who serve Anashiel are trained in the art of everything that is deadly, be it hand to hand combat, stealth, poison, or any number of other means – as you can imagine, her initiation might be tricky – aka deadly. […]

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